April is Stress Awareness Month, which is a great time to reflect on the stressful situations we often experience every day and how we handle them. Developing a routine to handle stress can prevent unhealthy habits, such as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
The Importance of Stress Awareness Month
Because everyone undergoes stress in some way, different groups encourage open discussions about stress, including The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) and the American Institute of Stress (AIS).
Creating a dialogue about stress highlights the different coping mechanisms people may use to handle their stress. During April, it’s important to evaluate your own stress management strategies to ensure your coping mechanisms are healthy.
The Connection Between Stress and Substance Use
There are different types of stress — acute and chronic — that lead to various bodily responses. Acute stress is more manageable and has a shorter bodily response. However, chronic stress is a more powerful emotion that causes a mental and physical response.
Experiencing a stressful situation releases cortisol, which is a hormone that regulates bodily functions. An excessive amount of cortisol can lead to anxiety or depression. That means stress affects multiple systems in the body, including the:
- Cardiovascular system
- Central nervous system
- Digestive system
- Endocrine system
- Immune system
- Muscular system
- Reproductive system
- Respiratory system
Reasons for Chronic Stress
People often experience chronic stress without realizing what type of stress they are dealing with. There are a variety of reasons someone experiences chronic stress:
- Childhood stress: If a person previously experienced high levels of stress early in life, their body reverts to being in a state of emergency at the sign of a stressful situation, which can cause their bodily response to be more severe.
- Workplace pressure: The constant drive to perform well at work can lead to routine exposure to chronic stress, which continues even after work ends. Ultimately, this can generate anxiety and stress-related medical conditions.
- Past trauma: Trauma causes your nervous system to go into survival mode, which can have a significantly negative impact on your body, especially if this type of stress is repeated. Untreated trauma can cause a substance use disorder, so seeking professional help for past trauma is crucial.
- Life events: A stressful life event may not lead to chronic stress by itself, but a person’s coping mechanisms could increase stress. Managing a stressful event with substance use could worsen the situation and produce an addiction.
Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress
The above factors could cause chronic stress, which often leads people to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances. Because of this, stress and addiction are closely linked together. Even if chronic stress is unavoidable, finding a healthy coping mechanism is important, so you won’t revert to using drugs to cope with stress. Some examples include:
- Listening to music
- Watching TV
- Spending time with friends and family
- Learning a new hobby
These coping mechanisms are effective alternatives for substance use, but if you’ve already started self-medicating when you’re experiencing chronic stress, stopping your substance use may require professional help.
If you think your stress has led to a substance use disorder, you need to find a treatment center that’s trustworthy and experienced in providing treatment that leads to long-term success, so you can learn to cope with stress in a healthy manner.
Contact Gateway Foundation for Substance Use Disorder Treatment
At Gateway Foundation, we understand how easily stress can lead to a substance use disorder. We’ve provided effective treatment plans for people with substance use disorders for over 50 years, so we understand how to create individualized plans that will provide long-lasting results.
Our compassionate staff uses effective, evidence-based approaches that address the underlying issues of substance use, such as depression, anxiety and grief. During treatment, we provide a range of different therapies to understand the cause of your addiction. Some of the different treatment programs we offer include:
- Trauma therapy recovery program
- Mindfulness-based sobriety
- Relapse prevention program
- Coping skills therapy
These services can provide long-term results, and you will learn to use healthy coping mechanisms in your sober life, even in stressful situations. Contact us today to start your recovery journey!